Digital transformation means letting go of the line

Nik Willetts, Deputy CEO, TM Forum, opened TM Forum Live! Asia in Singapore by asking what the communications industry needs to do to thrive in the digital marketplace where growth and change are exponential, not linear. He noted, “We underpin the digital revolution with connectivity, but risk being left behind unless we get on with the journey too: Anything that can become digital will be and anything physical that has to remain physical will be connected.”

He acknowledged that like many other industries, large companies typically had dominated their sectors within chosen territories. Now enterprises that want to survive and grow must excel at partnering and work within ecosystems, leveraging platform-based models. To achieve this, network operators need to expose their assets and capabilities to partners so they can co-create new services and generate much greater than incremental revenues, and serve customers faster and better.

Willetts stressed this also means transforming the culture of businesses so they have the right structure and skills to take advantage of new technologies and opportunities.

Platform is where the profit is

He pointed to the great digital brands that have emerged over a very short length of time, such as Alibaba, Uber, Airbnb and Facebook and asked how are they so successful? The answer is that these platform-based businesses bring buyers and sellers together, and profit from enabling, rather than controlling, ecosystems.

He added that as impressive as their success is, in technological terms, it is not that sophisticated – especially when we compare it with the complexity required for services like digital health, smart energy and smart cities, such as Singapore, which will make the world sustainable.

Willetts said, “Our industry not just about delivering connectivity; we must provide service assurance and service level agreements for these more complex services. We have the knowledge and applications, and must transform to do it. Gone is the world of egosystems and trying to dominate as much as we can. Now we must embrace ecosystems and a meaningful role in much bigger market.”

The Forum’s role in digital

He concluded by pointing out that Frameworx – the Forum’s central suite of tools and best practices, developed by members for other members to use freely – has underpinned the transformation of the communications industry for 15 years. He said, “Three years ago, we began our journey to embrace digital. Now we offer open APIs, which are endorsed by nine of the world’s largest service provider and nine of the major vendors.”

The Forum will also publish a Digital Platform Reference Architecture shortly and is developing a Digital Maturity Model & Metrics.

Ten Catalysts were demonstrated In Singapore; they are rapid, collaborative R&D proof-of-concept projects that, that bring innovation to life very rapidly, producing ground-breaking solutions. The Forum will be launching Ecosystem Catalyst projects “working with other industries to find solutions that are built with and rely on the Forum’s toolkits, open APIs and the innovative platform we offer… We truly and fundamentally believe that the only way we can more forward is through collaboration.”

Singapore – smart nation

The next keynote speaker was Mr. Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant CEO of Singapore’s newly formed Info-Communications and Media Development Authority (IMDA). His keynote speech was about Singapore’s development as a smart nation and he said smart cities feel like “everything good, you put a rubber band round it and you get a smart city.” The reality is about moving from the linear to the exponential.

Over the last 50 years, Singapore has grappled with limited resources, including people power, energy, water and land. Now the pressure is more intense due to many factors – see infographic.


Source: Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, Sept 2016

He pointed to a recent innovation to get over the problem of trucks queuing at the shopping malls between 10am and 4pm to deliver goods. It was taking them 65 minutes to complete their delivery, creating huge congestion, pollution and delay for others in the meantime. Now the deliveries are put into containers with smart locks that track what’s inside, and trucks arrive and leave within seven minutes.

He stressed that smart design, constant innovation and a holistic approach were key, along with demonstrating benefits to citizens so that they were willing to accept disruptive technologies. He elaborated on these themes in this video interview.

In her keynote, SP Telecom’s CEO, Mui Hoon Poh said it had cost $2.7 billion in 2000 to sequence the human genome, which by 2014 was down to $1,000 and she predicted that by 2020 it will cost a penny and “be cheaper than flushing the toilet.”

Mui Hoon Poh said that describes the nature and scale of change today – exponential not linear. She further illustrated this saying that although we all think we know the story of Eastman Kodak’s demise – a 120-year-old company that was complacent, failed to innovate and keep a competitive edge – in fact, digital photography transformed the whole photography market at once, from the camera to film, processing, storage, distribution, marketing and more. It wasn’t about a gradual linear decline in market share, but total change, all in one go.

This is the world in which businesses must survive and thrive in, or disappear. She asked, “How do you deal with that level of exponential growth?” and in part answered her own question by offering six key strategies to help telcos capitalize on these digital capabilities:

  • Reinvent the core
  • Pursue adjacencies – connectivity alone is not enough
  • Build the right talent capabilities
  • Build an agile, digital, empowering culture
  • Revamp IT
  • Start with the customer and work backwards

The customer at the center

The final keynote speaker, Sandra De Zoysa, is Group Chief Customer Officer, Dialog Axiata. Dialog is a subsidiary of Axiata, which delivers quad play and digital services. She talked about the company’s success in Sri Lanka where it operates largest and fastest-growing mobile network and is a winner of six GSMA Global Mobile Awards, and has the distinction of being the Telecom Service Provider of the Year for five successive years at the SLIM-Nielsen People’s Choice Awards.

She described her company’s vision for customer experience as to “lead the customer experience transformation towards a digital future by humanizing digital care to fulfill consumers’ needs of connection, self-expression and exploration through ubiquitous omnichannel, life-enriching experiences.”

The way to make this reality, De Zoysa said, is through speed, service and quality, enabling customers to shop and socialize online, as well as protect online reputations. The services range in granularity from things like being able to connect to public transport, to the connected home and wearables for individuals. At whatever scale, though, customer experience is enabled and constantly improved by digitized processes and analytics at every stage.


    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.

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